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March 17, 2007

UCLA holds off late Indiana surge to advance

Box score

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Indiana's game plan hearkened back to the days of Four Corners offenses and set shots, and it nearly worked - until UCLA punched a hole in its peach basket and squeaked into the next round of the NCAA tournament.

Darren Collison scored 15 points, hit two late free throws and made the game-deciding steal as UCLA survived both the Hoosiers' stifling defense and their frantic tying rally for a 54-49 second-round victory Saturday night in the West Regional.

Arron Afflalo managed just 10 points for second-seeded UCLA (28-5), which led 20-13 after a first half dominated by defensive hustle - and downright offensive ineptitude by both teams. Indiana tied it at 49 with a minute left after a 16-3 rally, but Afflalo and Collison finished it off with free throws.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game to play against a Big 10 team like that, but we showed we can play a lot of different ways," Afflalo said. "We're a versatile team, and we're just grateful to be moving on."

The Bruins are headed to the round of 16 for the fifth time in eight years - and the second straight campaign under coach Ben Howland, whose team lost the national championship game to Florida last season.

Awaiting Howland in the next round is a matchup with his old team, the Pitt Panthers.

D.J. White and Earl Calloway scored 12 points apiece for Indiana (21-11), which finished its encouraging first season under coach Kelvin Sampson with a tournament game that should have a place in the schools' rich history - even if it won't win any beauty contests.

UCLA won without making a field goal in the final 5:25, but Indiana couldn't score at all in the final minute.

Indiana trailed 46-33 with 5:25 to play before Lance Stemler led the comeback, which UCLA helped with a shot-clock violation and two missed free throws. Stemler's 3-pointer and Roderick Wilmont's running jumper with 1:46 left but the Bruins' lead to 47-45.

"They made some 3's, and that's how they got back," said UCLA's Josh Shipp, who managed just five points on 2-of-7 shooting. "The ball went their way at the end, but we finished it up."

Afflalo, the Pac-10 player of the year, hit two free throws for his first points in 17 minutes, but Stemler was fouled on another 3-point attempt. The junior reserve hit two free throws, but Indiana rebounded the third - and Calloway's diving layup tied it with a minute left.

Afflalo hit two more free throws with 38 seconds left before Collison alertly swiped the inbounds pass away from Calloway, who was forced to commit his fifth foul. Collison added two more free throws, and Shipp sealed it with one last free throw with 10 seconds left.

The Bruins again are a second seed that won't have to leave California to make the Final Four, heading to the West Regional in San Jose.

But they couldn't find the way until they overcame a smothering defensive game by the Hoosiers, who got exactly the style they desired in the first 20 minutes - yet still couldn't turn it into an advantage.

The first half was excruciating, with both teams running down the shot clock before missing difficult attempts. But defense couldn't take all the credit - both teams seemed much more comfortable defending the ball than trying to put it in the hoop.

Indiana went 5-for-28 in the first half, while UCLA was 7-for-26. The Hoosiers scored two points in the final 7 minutes before halftime, and the Bruins went through several lengthy dry spells.

Stemler's 3-pointer with 4:27 to play ensured the Hoosiers wouldn't finish with the fewest points ever scored by a UCLA opponent. Indiana's 49 points were one more than the school's lowest total in a tournament game - 48 against Virginia on March 24, 1984.

Sampson wanted an ugly game replicating the Big 10's deliberate style to negate the Bruins' athletic advantages. Did he ever get it - and UCLA was susceptible to such slowdowns during the Pac-10 season, even scoring just 51 points in its regular-season finale against Washington.

Afflalo, who scored 22 points in the opening-round victory over Weber State, reverted back to his ineffective form in the Pac-10 tournament. He blew at least one layup while missing nine of his 11 shots.

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